Burgess v. Prince, — So.3d —-, 2010 WL 199422 (Fla. 2d DCA Jan. 22, 2010)

Access to trust funds is usually a zero-sum game: If I pay trust funds to one party, there’s less money for everyone else. We usually think of this problem in terms of conflicting claims between trust beneficiaries: if I pay $$ to beneficiary “A,” there’s less $$ for beneficiary “B.”

So is there a way to boost payments to beneficiary A without diminishing beneficiary B’s share of the trust? Yes!

One option is to “grow the pie,” so there’s more to go around for everyone [click here]. Another option is to pay beneficiary A to do some of the trust-administration work being done by third parties. As long as beneficiary A can do the job, this transaction is an economic wash as far as beneficiary B is concerned. So why not “keep the money in the family” by paying a trust beneficiary – rather than an unrelated third party – to do the work? Professionals who take the time to understand this opportunity can become heroes to their trust-beneficiary clients. The linked-to opinion is an example of this second option in action.

Trust beneficiary as Business Manager:

In the linked-to opinion the trust owned Salt Creek Art Works, a large art studio and gallery. One of the trust’s beneficiaries was serving as trustee of the trust and business manager for Salt Creek Art Works. The trust agreement provided that a beneficiary may not receive compensation for serving as trustee, but there was nothing stopping her from getting paid for the work she did as business manager. In fact, the trust agreement specifically authorized a trustee/beneficiary to hire herself to do any work the trust required.

When the trustee/beneficiary was removed as trustee she was also stripped of her business-manager fees. On appeal the 2d DCA reversed this ruling by simply applying the clear text of the trust agreement.

Section 6.2 of the Trust provides that a beneficiary may not receive compensation for serving as Trustee:

Any Trustee, whether an individual or corporate trustee, who may serve under the Trust shall be entitled to receive compensation for its services as Trustee in accordance with its schedule of rates in effect at the time the services are rendered, including minimum fees and additional compensation for special investment and interests in a closely-held business. Any Trustee who is also a beneficiary under the Trust shall serve without compensation.

(Emphasis added.) Our record demonstrates, however, that Ms. Burgess did not receive compensation for her service as Trustee. Rather, she received a modest monthly payment from the Trust for operating the ongoing business of Salt Creek Art Works. The payments she received were not contrary to the terms of the Trust. Indeed, the Trust allows compensation to a Trustee serving in other capacities. Section 6.4 empowers the Trustee:

[T]o employ accountants, actuaries, appraisers, attorneys, brokers, building contractors, custodians, investment managers, realtors, and other agents including any Trustee, if such employment be deemed necessary or desirable and to pay reasonable compensation for their services without diminution of any fiduciary’s commissions….

(Emphasis added.)

Finally, section 6.5 allows the Trustee to compensate a beneficiary for business management duties:

To determine in his or her discretion the manner and extent of his or her active participation in the business, and to delegate all or any part of his or her power to supervise and operate to such person or persons as he or she may select, including any associate, partner, officer or employee of the business.

To hire and discharge officers and employees, fix their compensation and define their duties; and to employ, compensate and discharge agents, attorneys, consultants, accountants and such other representatives as the Trustee may deem appropriate; including the right to employ any beneficiary or individual fiduciary in any capacity.

(Emphasis added.)

Relying on the plain language of the Trust document, we must conclude that the trial court erred in ruling that Ms. Burgess could not be compensated for managing Salt Creek Art Works.